It's been interesting to watch YA books progress over the years and change into what it is today. And what is it? Basically, YA is anything that is suitable for ages 12 and up. It usually focuses on an adolescent or a young adult (High School, people!), and the thematic material you'll find inside a YA book is going to be considerably mild compared to that of an "Adult" book.
Or is it?
Young Adult is a lot more "Adult" than it used to be. I've seen books about teenage pregnancy marked as YA. But Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series is also YA. There is a mammoth jump in age appropriateness here - one is a lot closer to adult than the other, yet there they are, both classified as YA (12+). Lately I've been finishing up Pushing the Limits, by Katie McGarry. She is, by the way, an amazing author and a very talented storyteller. But if I had a dollar for every time her male lead dropped the F-Bomb or indulged in a sensual mental fantasy that would be better left unwritten, I'd have a lot of pocket change right now. It's a wonderful story and I ADORE romance, but I'm just pointing out:
YA is becoming more and more "Adult."
The edginess factor that's popping up in YA books is a growing trend, and yet the bestselling novels are still stories like, The Hunger Games or Tiger's Curse. None of those are sexually graphic or laced with profanity by any stretch. I'm not dissing the use of those elements, either. I'm a writer - I understand that certain characters have to say and do certain things to be real. The male lead in my own novel swears, too! Sensuality is a part of romance. All I'm saying is, I'm seeing the line between YA and Adult literature blur. As an adult, I'm reading YA that can be insanely intense and very graphic. I walked into Barnes & Noble the other day and saw a book in the YA section that would have been better suited for an R-rated Only section of the bookstore.
My point is, I love Young Adult fiction. Adore it. My shelves are stocked with so much YA that I could start a library in my bedroom. It just worries me that we feel like we have to inject such incredibly graphic stuff into a story to make it realistic. We don't.
A good story will sing all by itself - and best by itself.